Shelleyan Top Ten Moments - 2017


Welcome to my inaugural, year end "Shelleyan Top Ten" list. The eligibility criteria for an appearance on this list is pretty straight forward (and subjective!) First the event or occurrence must have contributed to raising the awareness of Percy Bysshe Shelley among the general public. Second, it also needs to have come to my attention - which is not omniscient (this means my list is not necessarily definitive!). Finally, I also have ranked on the basis of whether the moment was unusual or unexpectedly brilliant.

In any event, these sorts of lists are supposed to be fun and are designed to provoke debate and conversation.  So let the discussion begin.

The 10 Best Shelley Moments of 2017

10.        Entering the list at number ten is the Penn-Shelley Seminar series that is overseen by Eric Alan Weinstein. The seminar brings scholarship from around the world together to examine the life and work of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Over the past three years, more than a dozen Penn faculty members spanning five separate departments have contributed as have almost forty visiting scholars -including me!  You can watch my most recent presentation by clicking the link to "The Radical Shelley in His Time and Ours". Together Eric and his team have produced nearly 100 hours of unique digital scholarly content, all of which is being made freely available. An associated MOOC became of of the world's favourites in 2016. Say what you will about MOOCs, hundreds of people participated in Eric's course as did I. It is fair to say that my entire Shelley project was inspired by that course. Like Shelley, Eric wants to change the world; Shelley can help us to do this. I look forward to the relaunch of the Shelley MOOC in 2018!!! You can learn more about Eric's initiatives here.


9.         At number 9, we have Paul R Stephens (follow him on Twitter here) who launched a series of “On This Day" Tweets that focus on memorable excerpts from the letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Featuring over 300 selections so far, the series also matched the prose with very carefully chosen works of art. Paul is a Shelley scholar working on his PhD at Oxford. With Paul’s permission, I began republishing his selections on The Real Percy Bysshe Shelley Facebook page in November with the addition of a couple of paragraphs of my own commentary.  These posts have proved to be a huge hit, drawing hundreds of reactions and scores of comments and shares. What makes Paul’s selections so clever is the manner in which they draw attention to different aspects of Shelley’s multifaceted character.  So, well done Paul, don’t stop now!!!!


8.         In the summer of 2017, the Keats-Shelley Association of America (full disclosure: I am a Board Member) announced an ambitious online communications strategy which involves revamping its website and launching Twitter and Facebook feeds. The organization has hired Shelley scholar Anna Mercer as the official coordinator. She currently oversees four communication fellows. I have been advocating for this since I joined the Board as I believe social media (despite all of its drawbacks) is an essential tool to build communities. I look forward to great things from this initiative in 2018.


 7.        In March of 2017, English fashion designer John Alexander Skelton deployed Shelley's Mask of Anarchy in his spring runway show. This is an example of members of the general public engaging with Shelley and the radical past and unusual ways. You can read my article, "Shelley Storms the Fashion World" by clicking the button below. Skelton has to be one of the first clothing designers in history whose clothing line was inspired by a bloody massacre.  This might strike many as unusual, but I think it is actually quite an important example of art interfacing with politics and political protest – in a manner Shelley would have whole-heartedly approved.


6.         Frankenreads is another initiative of the Keats-Shelley Association of America. It enters my list at number 6.  An ambitious project it is designed to get people around the world thinking about and reading Frankenstein, the concept is built around a massive, world-wide reading project slated for Halloween of 2018.  While this project is virtually entirely focused on Mary, it can nonetheless function as a gateway through which we can interest Mary Shelley enthusiasts in Percy - after all, he was an active and not insubstantial collaborator on the novel. You can learn more about this brilliant KSAA project here.

5.         Flying in under the radar at number five is Tess Martin's brilliant animation short based on Shelley’s fragmentary poem, The Dirge. You can read the poem here. There is speculation that the poem was based on a true story about Ginevra degli Almieri, who was thought dead of a plague that swept the city of Florence in the year 1400, and was put in a vault to be buried the next day. But she then awakens and is mistaken for a ghost by both her husband and her parents. Martins gorgeous, ghostly interpretation of the poem is exquisite. It is one of the years great Shelley events. Thanks to Tess Martin and Max Rothman the good folks at Monticello Park Productions. I have an upcoming article on this magnificent project.


4.         Shelley took an unexpected star turn in the summer blockbuster, Alien Covenant. This is deserving of fourth place on the list!!  After the movie was released, I was very excited to hear that Shelley's poem Ozymandias features prominently.  The poem's theme is woven carefully into the plot of the movie, with David (played again by Michael Fassbender) quoting the famous line, "Look on my works ye mighty and despair." David, as followers of the movies will know, is a "synthetic humanoid" - one in a long line of such creatures, one of the most famous being Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation. That David quotes the poem without a trace of irony is central to the question of whether or not these creatures are fully human or not. For David, not to see that Shelley is employing one of his trademark ironic inversions, suggests that something is not quite right with him. That he mistakenly attributes the poem to Byron is another twist altogether. Enjoy Zac Farini's terrific review, "David or the Modern Frankenstein" by clicking the button below.


3.         During the summer of 2017, I published in three installments, for the first time, the text of a speech given by Shelley devotee and crusading journalist Paul Foot. It was an epic one-and-a-half-hour extemporaneous speech delivered to the London Marxism Conference of 1981.  I have estimated that the project took over two hundred hours – involving laborious transcription, research and editing. The entire speech was ultimately collected together and published on my website in the fall of 2015 by my research and editorial associate, Jonathan Kerr. You Paul epic speech "The Radical Percy Bysshe Shelley" by clicking the button below. Here is a link to the only audio we have, so you can listen along!! Here's to one of the greatest of all Shelleyans, Paul Foot. We will never forget you Paul, you left us too soon.

2.         Sitting in the number 2 position is the Shelley Conference 2017. The project was the brain child of Shelley scholars Anna Mercer and Harrie Neal, who were motivated by their frustration with the fact that, in Anna's words, there is no "regular event, academic or otherwise, dedicated solely to the study of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s works. Neither is there such an event for Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.” Given the outsize influence these two writers have had on our modern world, this fact is astonishing.  The Conference was a wonder and featured keynotes by three of the world’s leading Shelleyans: Nora Crook, Kelvin Everest and Michael O’Neill.  You can watch these here, here and here.  Slowly, I am also releasing panel presentations – but the process is somewhat time consuming.  My hope is that this conference will be followed by many more. Anna? Harrie? Percy and Mary owe you big time -- so do we all. Read Anna's article "Why the Shelley Conference" by clicking the button below

The Best Moment of 2017


1.         Pride of place this year goes to Jeremy Corbyn who adopted Shelley's poetry from The Mask of Anarchy as the foundation of his election campaign. The election slogan itself, “For the Many. Not the Few”, had a catalytic effect on the electorate and we can only guess at how many voters it mobilized. Corbyn then went on to quote Mask of Anarchy on several occasions.  The most memorable were at his campaign-concluding rally, and then after the election at Glastonbury. Both occasions were electrifying. Corbyn’s harnessing of Shelley earns pride of place in my year end list because it awoke tens of thousands of people to Shelley’s existence. Opportunities like this tend to be generational – and we just experienced one. His use was also a perfect illustration of why Paul Foot thought Shelley was so important. Shelley doesn’t just supply ideas (though there are plenty of those), he furnishes us with inspirational rhetoric and enthusiasm. Paul wrote, “Of all the things about Shelley that really inspired people in the years since his death, the thing that matters above all is his enthusiasm for the idea that the world can be changed”. Well, thanks to Jeremy Corbyn, we just witnessed such change first hand. Read my article "Jeremy Corbyn is Right: Poetry Can Change the World" by clicking the button below.  Watch the speech below (Shelley is quoted at 2:40). Thank you Mr, Corbyn, your job now is to bring some of Shelley's egalitarian dreams alive. Don't stop with the slogan; Shelley can be your best friend. Don't let us all down.

If you have some moment I have missed, write to me here:  2017 was also a terrific year for my website and the associated Facebook and Twitter accounts.  You can read about my progress in building a modern Shelley community here: "The Year in Review - 2017" .  I have big plans for 2018. Happy New Year to everyone. Here's to a magnificent, Shelley-packed 201811

The Worst Moment of 2017

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Now, most folks also offer a reflection on the worst moments of the previous year.  I am no different. For me, hands down, the worst moment of 2017 for Shelley was the release of Haifaa al Mansour’s atrocious re-invention of the lives of Mary and Percy.  It is a hot mess. What facts she doesn't distort to suit her fictional story line, she simply invents.  A fact checker could spend weeks correcting her mistakes. Here it is in a nutshell: the film makers want you to believe that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein in a single night based entirely on personal experiences of abandonment and bereavement. No collaboration. No apparent research. Yeah, it is THAT bad. In trying to put Mary on a pedestal it actually completely trashes her reputation for meticulous research, collaboration and hard, hard work. Oh, and after having been abandoned by Shelley in her hour of need (portrayed as a heavy drinker who directly causes the death of her first child) - a man who has stolen credit for her novel - she takes him back at the end of the movie with no questions asked. Because, ya know, that's how it happens in teenland, right?  It also trashes the reputation of almost everyone around her. Despite my hopes it would not find general release, it has. So Shelleyans can look forward to an invented story of Frankenstein’s creation which is jam packed with misrepresentations, false claims, fabrications and innuendo. You can read more about in my article, "The Truth Matters".  This publicity photo pretty much sums up the movie. This is what you will get - a ridiculous, fatuous teen drama. Avoid it if you can. Shame on those who made this film.